My Front Porch and Theirs

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The first guy I met there got nabbed as the serial rapist in this town not long after. He sat on the steps across the street and looked out as the evening lights kept cars running up and down and both ways through our intersection here, like ants under the midday sun.

Then there was Houma. Of course that wasn’t his given name, but I can rarely remember details like names. There are more suitable things to call people in the privacy of your own mind and that’s where he said he was from, so that’s what I called him. He’d see me in the corner of my wide front porch as he came out onto the front steps of his house to smoke. He would smile real big and wave at me and come jogging my way and into the yard and up onto my porch, talking just nonstop in that accent thicker than the Louisiana air he was born into. The way he chatted and glanced at you sideways with that smile after saying something you could tell he thought you would like, you never could trust him to speak truth to you without some tailored-to-you extras attached, just for flair. You had to like him though. He sat in the porch rocking chair beside me like he had known me since we were kids, said he borrowed money from his “Babeh” one day and asked her her favorite color. She said blue, so he got her name on his neck that day and airbrushed all in blue around the cursive black letters. He told me another day when I pulled up in front of the house, that he had just burnt up his car and the tools he had borrowed from my husband with it. The look of surprise on his face overcame the usual enthusiasm he wore, but even so, I didn’t believe a word of it. As he talked I didn’t quite listen and instead mentally made plans to stop by the pawn shop across the tracks on my next trip into downtown to look for them.  I then glanced across the street and at the same time caught the end of his story and, indeed, there was the burnt shell of his GMC with some wetness underneath it testifying that what he had said was true, fire truck dousing it and all. The heavy plastic toolbox I had bought my husband for Christmas a few months before was melted into itself in the backseat. He moved out into a trailer with his “Babeh” a few months later, and my husband helped him carry some furniture out.

There was the gal who wanted to make a little home there I could tell, but the meth had rotted the teeth out of her head and the sense right out with them. The only time I’ve ever been afraid to get out of my car when I’ve pulled up in front of my house was when some fellow meth users were standing at their car parked where I usually park. I pulled in behind them, they tried to stare me away. I stupidly, stubbornly held my ground and got out, shooed the kids into yard, and walked to my front door keeping the kids ahead of me as if I didn’t have a care in the world. The whole time my gut was yelling at me for getting out of the car in the first place, as it should have. She got behind on her rent or maybe she got caught dealing meth, who knows. She left, and while I liked her, I hated the presence of that drug on my street and was glad to see it and the people who used it go for good.

Next a quiet, thin older man moved in. He was up early, like me. After a smoke would bicycle off to work, and sometimes would get a ride. We never made eye contact, he seemed too weary and I too wary anyway after the last tenant of that place. But he did his thing day in and day out, even got taken away in an ambulance once and when he came back, he moved slower and walked bent over, holding onto things. He moved out one Sunday morning with some help and a few federal marshals showed up on my porch the next day, asking who he was with and what they drove and other such questions. He didn’t notify his PO of his change of plans I suppose, but as weary and slow as he looked, what did he have to lose at this point? I think he went home, wherever home was for him.

There may have been others in between, but the next regular presence on those front steps I can think of was Cowboy. He wore a hat and drove a truck, and he was likely still on paper too. He helped another tenant of that building when her car wouldn’t start with her baby in a carseat in the back. He occasionally gave a wave when my husband or I would drive by, and always left us our unofficial parking space in front of our house even when his was taken in front of his.  We came home from being out of town for a few weeks, and he was gone. The cops were looking for him too was what I heard.

And lately there’s the Felon, and a guy I call Beach, and maybe another guy and another one, I’m not sure as the rest all look alike to me. The Felon knows my schedule as well as I know his if he pays any attention at all. When my light goes on first thing in the very front room upstairs and I open the shades to let the sunrise light in, he’s there on the steps with a cigarette lit in the semi-dark. These quiet early hours are my favorite ones on this side of town. They are like a secret cove I’ve discovered and sneak away to upon waking. I confess I share this view of the street with him a tiny bit begrudgingly these days, like you are disappointed when another hiker comes up to your hard earned vista after a long day of climbing but it’s theirs to enjoy too. So more than begrudging him, I find myself glad for this stranger to enjoy the peace. It’s some of the only quiet I get in my day, perhaps it is in his, too. It certainly is on the street.

I expect, of course, that he or any one of those guys will go on the run one of these days and another cop will show up with questions, and I still won’t know their right names let alone which way they went.

I can always tell when that day is getting close- they don’t sit outside anymore and I get my front porch and my early mornings all to myself again.


For the lonely, the lost, the leaving… will You bring them home?

Enough

Once upon a time, a little girl thought life somewhere as natural and wild as her oddly curled hair would make her happy.

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So she explored barefoot and hatless, feeling all that she could feel from the Louisiana sun hot on the top of her head, the sun and forests and pastures of Germany warm around her body, to some Ohio mud cold and slimy between her toes, to Virginia and Carolina and all the way to Montana.

DSC_9729-11.jpgBut still she wanted more.

Someone to explore with would make her happy, she thought.

DSC_9732-14So she married a man from Appalachia who was dark and ruddy, like an American gypsy.

DSC_9730-12He moved her all around like one too, loved her sweetly, and gave her blue-eyed baby girls, and she loved them and all the new places they would go.

But even together, still she wanted more.

DSC_9734-16So she prayed and searched for some brown-eyed boys, and the ones she found didn’t come home with her but two perfect ones did.

And she named them and loved them, but still…

DSC_9741-23she just had to have more.

It was like hunger, constantly whetted, but never filled.

DSC_9738-20More

Better

Wilder

Different…

more of something.

DSC_9743-25It wasn’t more land, more house, more critters, more people, more food, more skinny, more coffee, more time, more wild, more beautiful, more need, more calm.

DSC_9745-27She only had more,

when she had enough.

DSC_9744-26The day she realized she has enough

laid her flat and curled her tight and made her cry like something new was being born from a place deeper than her heart, mind, or gut knew was even there.

She has enough, and she is blessed among women for it.

.

Beautiful Surprises

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I have an abscess in the back of my throat and a fever that annoys more than concerns, so a morning of driving and photographing sounded preferable to a morning of locked-in-a-small-house-with-wild-two-year-old-boy.

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The drenching kind of morning light we had driven through just thirty minutes earlier was mostly gone. The Suburban slipped on ice in places as I drove into the shadow of the sugar beet factory and took a few pictures of the mess. It’s a few blocks down from our house and days like this one it makes inside of my house smell like something died underneath it.

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My childhood was mostly spent in Dayton Ohio- full of huge, old, shut down factory buildings made out of brick and corrugated steel just like this one is. They mostly stood empty and graffitied.

I like that this one still runs.

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Billings is spread in a low valley along the Yellowstone River and is walled in on two sides by sandstone cliffs. Unlike Dayton, almost every industrial building here is full and cranking.

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It’s not like mountainous western Montana here or even like eastern Montana where the prairies are spread with wheat and sky. This part of the state seems to have overflowed up from the high desert of Wyoming. It surprised me the first time we drove through.

It makes for a landscape that is decisive, tough, and gorgeous.

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The air is mostly too dry for frosts thick enough to mention, so this morning was a small but noticed delight. The girls scratched pictures in their frosted windows all the way to school.

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We drove south out of town and in less than ten minutes we were here, looking south to the Bighorn Mountains that straddle the border with Wyoming. You could see nothing but land and sky for hundreds of miles.

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The Pryor Mountains got bigger as we drove, and I thought how someday I want to take the girls to see the wild horses that live up in there.

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At some point we got out and walked. More than once I smiled at my cute kid as he walked just like a little boy, hands casually pocketed. It was like he knew he was made to walk through this kind of beauty just like he was made to eat things that I make just for him, no need to stop and make a fuss.

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I knelt to get a picture of thorns and old fencing and thought how it’s a wonder of life to have the gift of feeling, to laugh at my two year old’s sense of humor, to see thorns coated with the most beautiful frost that the morning sun just lit on fire.

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Late morning as the sun washed everything too pale to photograph nicely and it was time to head home, I stood high above the city noticing how smoke columns rise higher than the tallest buildings.

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The wild boy sitting behind me was ready for some lunch so we drove down the rimrock to our little white rental house.I love surprises. And Montana is full of them.

Not Going It Alone Anymore

When you’re small enough to need somebody to hold your hand for a good while still, but there’s no one to do it anymore, you either make yourself go it alone, or you fall apart where you are and never, ever move forward.

Here’s someone who made it through alright and can still smile after it all over half a century later.

He reunited with his siblings and some cousins for the first time in decades last weekend.

Dad and his youngest brother have the same shape eyeglasses and both shift their weight from foot to foot when they’re talking. Dad’s sister gave everyone instructions during pictures because while she’s the smallest by inches and inches, she’s still the oldest, and they all listened because there are some things that miles and years and lost childhoods can’t do apart.

My cousin put together a beautiful family tree and a book full of documents and photos, most of them I didn’t even know existed. I saw how the War morphed Dad’s family from midwest farmers into world-traveled young men who picked up wives somewhere else, and after all that they had seen and been through, they never could quite go back home to the farm.

Dad jumped almost straight from the orphanage to the military, and I grew up moving. I was never tied to a town on the map or the names of grandparents to give me a place; but even so, I never felt like I “belonged” in Louisiana, or Germany, or even Ohio, although I lived there the longest. I didn’t wish I belonged because I didn’t know any better, I just knew that I didn’t.

By contrast, my husband was born and raised in the same part of Virginia that his parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc, etc, etc, were born and raised in and so his moving away after high school was a big deal. I fell in love with all of his family when we got married, he seemed related to absolutely everybody there, and I think in retrospect it was because he belonged somewhere like I didn’t, and all of the sudden I saw what I had been missing and was so glad for him to not know what it was like to go it alone.

But after spending ten hours last weekend in a house with a bunch of people that had common parents and grandparents, and passing photos of family cemeteries in Middle Of Nowhere, South Dakota that held the life stories of people with the last name I was born to; I felt, for the first time in years, like I actually belonged somewhere. Like I could someday drive into this little town in South Dakota and tell them I’m a Will, just like my husband can do in certain towns in Virginia, and be accepted because I’m really family and my great-great grandparents moved here, raised more Wills here, and died here and now their name is left on granite and it’s a name I’ve had, too.

There have been Wills that were birthed and Wills that were adopted, but Wills all the same. Now they hold down almost all four corners of this country. We had folks in from California, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Florida, Ohio and Michigan. I had to leave after just a day but they were just getting the party started and it was wonderful to watch.

I left with my Baby Dinosaur on my lap on the plane, and a picture of my dad and his brothers in a row on the couch, completely unaware how they jutted their chins out just the same while they concentrated on their camera screens. I have a warm memory of the food everyone brought, and the laughter and shared memories between siblings and cousins after so many years of going it alone. It’s not that way for him anymore, I was glad to realize. And that’s a privilege that I’m glad I can share in.

Seven Years

I’ve been married to him for seven years now.

It’s my year to plan our anniversary so I got a babysitter and we’re going canoeing for the afternoon on the French Broad River. He loves being in a canoe. And I love being with him.

Seven years together is pure gift, sheer grace handed to me, I’m undeserving, and I see it as such and utter thanks to God for it.

I’m sipping hot coffee and over the white plastic lid I see the blur of colors in the Faithfulness quilt I stitched last year. Four hills and a sunset, yellow star on the biggest mountain, scraps of fabric pieced together in lines turned diagonal and it doesn’t exactly hang straight. Seven years up and down the Blue Ridge together and in three days we’re leaving it for a while.

He proposed to me there- that’s why I put a big random star on the tallest hill, there’s a vintage neon star on Mill Mountain in Virginia that rises high above the city of Roanoke. He drove me up into his beloved mountains near to it over my spring break.  Southern-style humidity trying to push out the last cold of winter but in Appalachia some chilly damp places hide deep in little forgotten pockets under generations-old rhodedendren, and if you happen into such a spot when it’s hot everywhere else, the air  heavy wet with mist wraps your skin like summer rain. Its chilly and you feel like your hair should be dripping wet with sweat warm water suspended, hovering all around you but it never does. It feels like a fairy land, and that’s how it felt when he parked in a little damp lot at Roanoke Mountain, all green and just teeming with life that early spring afternoon.

I gasped- the real kind (and who does that except in movies?!) because he thought me of unspeakably more worth than that pure glassy diamond he shyly had slipped out of his pocket just a few seconds before. He loved me as much as, maybe more than, he loved himself- and my small brain couldn’t believe that such an exquisite thing was for little silly me. That such an exquisite person was half whispering with a shake in his voice and strong eyes quietly plead with mine to accept it, to accept him. 

His towering act of humility that day left my finger suddenly heavy and my heart stretched fuller than I thought mortally possible. It was both heavy with the barely recent memory of those eyes, those burning quiet eyes, and freed with the realization, washed over my brain like a tsunami quenches a barren island, that I was loved.  When it came time for me to leave, I kept my glittering finger up high on the steering wheel where the sun could catch it all seven hours home.   I couldn’t stop glancing at it and smiling like a fool because it was a such a testimony of what he had said, and better, what his eyes couldn’t audibly speak but had impressed deep into me up in those Appalachian woods of his.  (And is there any greater blessing than to unshakeably know that one is loved?)

He had brought me home to propose, and I said yes, that I would come live with him there and love it because he did.

And seven years ago this morning I packed all my earthly stuff and some groceries into his red Xterra with a lift, drove to an old stone church in a small Ohio town and said yes all over again.

We’ve been up and down the Blue Ridge ever since.

He called me just a minute ago to tell me that he took our girls on a little detour in the bike trailer. They’re at the park and they’ll be home soon. I’m here while the baby naps and I’m writing, it’s remembering. I’m shaking my head a little, too.  Who would have thought? It was all a little hasty, three months dating then only three months engaged before we made our covenant before God. And now kids, a house, moving to a place a couple thousand miles away where we don’t know a soul. He’s adventurous like that though. So we’re going canoeing for the afternoon, a time for a little remembering before life gets busy again.

Happy Seven Years, Justin. You’re a good man for being married to and I’m blessed to be your wife.

Some Pictures ~ ‘Cause Life is Beautiful

An Appalachian Farm ~ I Love

Pretty Flowers & Good Beer

He Hates His Picture Taken But He Has To

She Was Born Here

First Graduation Ceremony!

New Haircut & The Crackermonster

Peony in Bloom

Lunch in the Woods

Why I Love Father’s Day

Sorry…. Feet

My Explorers

Can’t Keep Their Nails Clean =)

Why I Love Father’s Day

Do We Live in the Tropics? I Wonder Sometimes.

He Gave Her the Compass

Found a Shy Snail

Had Him Out in a Thunderstorm… Oops!

Another Storm and Neighbor Fishes our Umbrella Out of His Pool…. Oops.

He Wears the Ring I Gave Him

Watermelon on a Stormy Afternoon

Paradoxically Speaking

This doctorly feller of mine didn’t exactly marry Hollywood.  Or Harvard for that matter.

He certainly could have.

Well, Harvard anyway.

Hollywood might be a little tall for him!

But somehow, somehow the redneck in us both gets along just fine.

Which reminds me:

 I’ve made a discovery- new to me but I’m sure it’s old news to many of you but I’m sayin it anyhow!

That life is one big paradox.

Grace is a Gift

Grace takes action to receive / Grace was never won by action

Grace is poured lavishly on the basketcases that can’t pull their acts together.

Not withheld from the “deserving” but maybe it’s just that they can’t see the hand offered them?

Can’t see that the sunlit wood floor, radiating warmth and endless beaming glow and it makes you stop in your tracks and notice.

That that beauty, the kind that whispers at you if you happen to glance it’s way, is a shred of a corner of the same Grace that shouts, screams, dances it’s wild flame of joy like when you see the mighty granite dome rise up from hours-long prairie, and the mere sight of it takes your breath away and gives you a fleeting dare that maybe something really does lie beyond.

And the weary and troubled and relentlessly imperfect are capable to see it and receive, because it’s they who know best that they don’t deserve another second on this planet with all it’s beauty and pain and paradoxes because they haven’t done one thing to deserve what they even have?

That the only reason for a daughter’s smile turned toward them, sunlit, inquisitive, beaming mysterious,

is the gift of Grace.

And that the Giver knows- He knows that you’re a basketcase because He’s been with you all along and knows your story better than anyone?

And Gives Anyway. 

And gives with Delight!

I don’t know how you feel about it, but it makes no sense to me. 

Yet it makes all the sense in the world.

Isn’t that life?

Isn’t that life.

Beautiful, maddeningly wild, a paradox?





Shalom

Flags hanging low, still and waiting, lining the streets around my town, people still alongside but the drooping flags are outnumbered for the crowds of watchers standing somber and waiting. A Mills River father of two little girls, twenty nine like the father of my two girls, killed in Afghanistan just days ago and these people are waiting for him to come home. And I wept for his babies, for his wife of eight years and whispered thanks for my own soulmate and I’ve loved him eight years, father of my precious babies, safely home after brushing the tornadoes by a hair and sharing my bed again one more blessed night.

Driving my oldest to Kindergarten this morning and I see flags going up again. I think about the small town soldier that just came home to rest, I read about a wicked man finally killed by small town soldiers, bravery at it’s finest, and I feel not jubilation but a heavy heart, pushing into my throat and I can’t voice the thing trying to get out but I ache.

Ache for peace, burn for Shalom. Weep for the loss in Mills River and the mangled Deep South and the real lives that are tossed and twisted up in the wake of huge tragedy. Ache for the pain and pray for comfort to those who weep and have lost.

And pray for shalom.

And God hears.

And so I wait.

Home Again, Home Again

When Doc asked me to marry him, it was understood that the package included moving with him to Virginia and leaving Dayton behind for a (long) while.

I remember the first time I went back home after I married Doc- I missed it.

And the whole time I was there visiting, I pined for my new home.

How confusing!

But I think anyone who has grown up and established their home where their husband is feels the same way the first time or two they go back home.

Nothing has changed and everything has changed. Magical evening light still pours through the kitchen window next to the back door where dogs are always scratching their paws on the metal to be let inside.

Same sounds, different dogs.

Same light, different blonde braids, same squeaking stairs as different little girls run up as fast as they can holding the same wobbling handrail, different carpet, and it feels nice under my feet.

We still play in the backyard, Bop still shoots the basketball just like she did when time was too opaque for four girls to understand that the only Present we knew was just a Chapter in a life that had so many more Chapters ahead.

It’s funny how time moves, isn’t it?

It has a way of getting you lost in it, especially when you’re very young.

Leaving home to visit home is a happy time, life experience having taught you by now that it’s only a Chapter, full of stories of the past.

The juxtaposition of your new family invading that old space is what throws you. Is what keeps you leaving home to come back home, missing home, going back home.

How confusing!

It’s still confusing.

This Guy of Mine

I’m reposting this from last year because I love this post.  :)

This Guy of Mine

We started dating when he was 21, I was barely 19.

 

 

One of my friends from Ohio met him and remarked that I was dating a Mountain Man from Virginia. I don’t think she intended it to be a compliment, but I loved it. That was back when he ran heavy machinery for his dad before med school started. His hair was long and he drove a Nissan with a lift and some big tires. My friend was definitely right.

Today he’s 28 and he’s crammed a lot into seven years- a haircut, dating, engagement, wedding, med school, two kids, six moves, half of residency. He drives an old truck and carries three hundred times the amount of responsibility than he did when we took this photo.

His eyes are more weary, but they’re still kind and strong, just like they were when we took this photo. Just like they were when I fell completely and madly in love with him for good.

 

 

Happy Birthday, Mountain Man from Virginia.

You swept this plain ol’ Ohio girl off her feet seven years ago and they’ve been the best years of my life.